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DHL Supply Chain and Boston Dynamics Release Automated Carton Unloader

Stretch was developed through a four-year strategic collaboration between the two companies.

DHL MachineDHL Supply Chain, the Americas leader in contract logistics and part of Deutsche Post DHL Group, became the first company to achieve commercial application of Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot developed for carton unloading of trucks. The successful deployment of the robot comes just one year after DHL Supply Chain announced its $15 million investment in robotics solutions from Boston Dynamics.

In the application, Stretch robots take packages from the back of trailers and place them on a flexible conveyor. Unloading boxes is a strenuous, physically demanding work process which can impact an associate’s ability to work efficiently. By automating this process, DHL Supply Chain not only addresses safety concerns but also the ongoing labor supply challenge by redirecting skilled labor to focus on value-add, strategic tasks in other areas of the warehouse. The speed at which Stretch can unload cases varies by product; however, in all tested environments the case unload speed exceeded the manual approach, driving significant advantages in efficiency and productivity.

The custom-designed, lightweight arm of the robot has seven degrees-of-freedom, which gives it the length and flexibility to reach cases throughout the trailer or container. Advanced sensing and controls enable it to handle a variety of package types and sizes while maximizing pick rates. Boston Dynamics’ computer vision technology enables the robot to identify boxes easily and without any pre-programming. Stretch is capable of working autonomously through complex situations like mixed stacking configurations and recovering fallen boxes.

The insight and experience gained from this ongoing strategic collaboration will be used to deploy additional innovative robotic technologies in the future. DHL Supply Chain plans to continue working with Boston Dynamics to enhance Stretch’s key performance and consistency metrics, aiming to decrease the number of human interventions required while improving the robot’s automated recovery process for fallen boxes. The companies are also looking to gradually scale the robot for additional tasks, tapping into the encouraging potential of mobile robots in the warehouse.

DHL Supply Chain plans to deploy Stretch robots across multiple warehouse operations in the coming year.

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